Taxi drivers rank alongside hairdressers as sources of deep information about communities, and the one who drove me on Sunday morning from Padstow on the Cornish Coast to Bodmin Parkway confirmed for me that it’s a bad idea to move to the seaside when you retire.
“A lot of my business is driving people to and from the hospital. It’s sad. I see it time and time again that people move down here when they retire and in no time I’m driving one of them to and from the hospital. The hospital pays for the patient but not for visitors. A lot of them are diabetics. They seem to be driven to and from the hospital just for a blood test. One woman has to get her husband up at 6 in the morning to get him ready. Normally he doesn’t get up at all.”
“Then one of them dies. That’s when it gets really sad. Often I’m the only person the one left speaks to. And they all talk to themselves. They talk to themselves while they’re in the car. Then they apologise. I don’t like to get too close. I know they’ll be dead soon.”
“The families, if they have one, have to travel miles to see them. The families try to get them to move closer, but they don’t want to. They don’t want to leave the dead one.”
“Often these people leave their money to the gardener, the cleaner, or the dog walker. I worry that they might leave money to me. I don’t want their money.”
“I think that people should stay where they’ve lived their lives. And it’s best in towns or cities. Then they can totter to the shops. See other people. Mind you, it won’t be good for my business if they do stop retiring to the seaside.”
Richard Smith was the editor of the BMJ until 2004 and is director of the United Health Group’s chronic disease initiative.